While most students and parents plan for children to head off to college immediately after high school, everyone knows that life has this nasty habit of getting in the way.

Although there are about a million reasons that you might have had to take a break from your formal education to clock in and pay your bills, the good news is that no matter how long it’s been since you attended school, there are a number of easy ways that you can help get yourself back in gear.

Whether its been a year, ten years or fifty years since you were enrolled in college, there are a number of steps you can take to boost the odds right back in your favor. 

Network With Other Non-Traditional Students

One of the biggest complaints that returning adult students share when they return back to their formal educations is how overwhelming everything is. Most people are more than willing to admit that they underestimated how hard it really is.

Sadly, if you’re not prepared for the obstacles and burdens of returning to school, discouragement can result in poor grades or even a resolution to quit and just get back to work. Don’t let the responsibilities and demands on your schedule catch you by surprise.

Take some time to network with other adult, non-traditional college students to find out what the biggest obstacles and challenges were and what they did to work around them.

The more information you have, the more realistic of a picture you’ll have painted as you head back to college.

Practice Telling People “No!”

Even if you do your homework and come to terms with the reality of going back to school and not just the dream, that doesn’t mean that other people will understand the demands that are being placed on your time. Distractions and delays will come from all sorts of unexpected places – spouses, children, friends, family members, co-workers and more.

If you’re seriously considering heading back to college, it’s time to practice telling everyone “No!” now, while you can afford to get the hang of it. Learn to set a schedule and stick to it. If you plan to set aside 5:00p-7:00p for studying, go ahead and “reserve” that time period now so people can get acquainted with your new priorities. Stick to your guns.

Don’t be afraid to turn people down, send calls to voice mail or ignore emails until you’re done…

Take Placement Tests Early

If you know that you’ll be heading back to school soon, do yourself a favor and sign up to take your placement tests early. If you haven’t attended class in ten years, your English or Math may be rustier than you dared imagine. Since there’s no reason to set yourself up to fail, it just makes sense to schedule a simple test that will allow you to see how competent and confident you can be heading into your initial classes.

It’s much better to be made away of potential problems ahead of time, when you have greater power to make changes and take action. Don’t wait until the last minute and then freak out once classes get started. Find a fast handle on where you sit with the various skills and classes you’ll be signing up for.

Sign Up for a Non-College Class

If you’re nervous about hitting the classroom again after all of these years, it may be a wise idea to sign up for another class or course in your area, just to get back into the swing of attending school, doing “homework” and dealing with instructors.

Most local community or state colleges offer non-accredited classes on a host of interesting subjects and areas, many of which are highly relevant to today’s competitive work force. If you haven’t been in school for quite some time, this can help you work on gaining your confidence ahead of time, before anything can find it’s way onto your permanent record.

Despite the fact that all of these tips and tricks will help make for a smoother transition back into your formal education, there are two things that are absolutely essential for success: desire and determination. Before you head back to school, always make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Excess student loan money, while at times convenient, will not be enough to see you through the rough times. Set your sights on the real prizes – greater education, improved career prospects, setting an example for your children – and you’ll stay motivated no matter what!

Katelyn Roberts writes for NetQin, a company dedicated to helping students stay focused and safe online.